URLs du Jour


  • Starting off the day with a chuckle … Or six, from John Atkinson: Classics retitled for reality TV show fans.

    [Retitled Classics]

    I've read (hangs head in shame) two of those, and actually prefer Atkinson's retitles.

  • Good advice. And it's from a Glenn Loury speech: We Must Make Ourselves Equal. Loury is an econ prof at Brown, and (I suppose this matters) he's a Professor Of Color. Skipping right to the bottom line:

    For this saga is not over. Freedom is one thing; equality, quite another. The former is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the latter. As such, it is both futile and dangerous for us black Americans to rely on others to shoulder our communal responsibilities. If we want to walk with dignity—to enjoy truly equal standing within this diverse, prosperous, and dynamic society—then we must accept the fact that “white America” can never give us what we seek in response to our protests and remonstrations.

    I take no pleasure in doing so but feel obliged to report this reality: equality of dignity, equality of standing, of honor, of security in one’s position within society, an equal ability to command the respect of others—such things cannot simply be handed over. Nor will they be the fruit of insurrection, violent uprising, or rebellion. Equality of this sort is something we must wrest with our bare hands from a cruel and indifferent world by means of our own effort, inspired by the example of our enslaved and newly freed ancestors. We must make ourselves equal. No one can do that for us. My fear is that, until we recognize and accept this unlovely but inexorable fact about the human condition—until we disdain the rhetoric and embrace the realities about race in our country—the disparities that have so troubled our politics and so threatened our domestic tranquility will continue to persist.

    As stated: good advice. I hope it will be taken.

  • You can't ask us to go in there. We might get shot! The first time I saw this, I wondered if it was misinformation. But here's non-misinformant Elizabeth Nolan Brown with some revolting news: Witnesses, Video Suggest Stunning Inaction From Uvalde Cops During School Shooting.

    Cops waited outside while shooter killed students. In yesterday's Roundup, I suggested that while everyone was looking for larger forces to blame, the only real villain in the shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that left more than 20 people dead was the shooter himself. But I was wrong. Video and witness accounts from outside Uvalde's Robb Elementary School suggest local police officers not only failed to try and stop the shooter for an unconscionably long time but also actively prevented parents from trying to save their kids.

    The shooter—Salvador Ramos—was inside the school for 40 minutes or more while police stood around outside, the Associated Press reports. "Frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the Texas elementary school," but the officers reportedly waited outside until a SWAT team was ready.

    ENB notes that Ulvade has a SWAT team (nine members with those scary looking assault rifles pictured at link). It would be nice to know what they were up to. Getting a cat out of a tree?

  • Another path that won't be taken. Daniel J. Mitchell has a suggestion: How to Solve America’s Worsening Fiscal Mess. But first the problem:

    America’s fiscal future is very grim, largely because of an ever-expanding burden of entitlement spending.

    To see the magnitude of the problem, let’s peruse the Budget and Economic Outlook, which was released yesterday by the Congressional Budget Office has some.

    Most people are focusing on how deficits are going to climb from $1 trillion to $2 trillion-plus over the next 10 years.

    That’s not good news, but we should be far more worried about the fact that the burden of government spending is growing faster than the private economy. As a result, government will be consuming an ever-larger share of national output.

    Mitchell goes on to point out that if our Congressional representatives held themselves to growing spending at a 1.4% annual rate, the trends predict that the deficit would be virtually eliminated by 2032.

    As you can guess, this would mean (almost certainly) cuts to projected entitlement spending. Hence, won't happen. Something else will, though.

  • Don't fear the Wokesters. At least not in Corporate America, according to Veronique de Rugy: Corporations' 'Woke' Signaling Won't Override Profit Motive.

    "Woke" is a loaded, political term. The passion it triggers obstructs the fact that behind the whole concept there is a genuine set of values, and many of them — like tolerance and equality of opportunity — are worth promoting. However, when practiced by corporations under pressure from vocal customers, employees or even investors, woke capitalism often incentivizes high-noise, low-cost signaling rather than actual cultural changes.

    There is some evidence, for instance, that some companies are more likely to be woke when it won't cost them many customers. I don't know whether that was on Delta executives' minds when, in 2018, they used a very public announcement to end a travel discount for NRA members flying to its annual convention. But with only 13 customers benefiting from the discount, Delta lost almost nothing. The company's wokeness didn't increase its share prices, according to at least one analysis, and there's no reason to believe it decreased gun violence.

    Other companies talk a big game but make no actual changes to their business models. A case in point is the group of 136 companies that first signed on to the Business Roundtable's statement on the "Purpose of a Corporation," which boasts a commitment to deliver value not just to shareholders, but to all "stakeholders," including customers, employees, suppliers and communities. Yet two years after the signing, the companies' updated corporate governance guidelines showed no real change or attempt to elevate stakeholders. Most of them even reiterated their commitment to shareholders' primacy. Eighty-five percent didn't even report signing it in a proxy statement sent to their shareholders. The ones that mentioned it didn't add how they would change their business models.

    Wokeness will continue to do damage, of course, in education and other areas regulated by woke-infested bureacracies. And just be happy you don't hold Unilever stock. Unless, uh, you do.

  • Here's hoping Betteridge's Law of Headlines doesn't apply. James Freeman wonders, as do millions of parents: Can Infants Survive the FDA?

    This column recently called on the Food and Drug Administration to explain how the scientific method required shutting down a baby formula factory where government tests failed to establish a link to infant illnesses—and then agreeing the factory should reopen the moment the resulting shortage generated significant headlines.

    The Abbott Laboratories plant will soon reopen but the shortage continues. Today’s virtual appearance by FDA Commissioner Robert Califf at a House hearing is virtually certain to inspire new doubts about the Biden FDA’s management method.

    Give Dr. Califf credit for the understatement of the year in acknowledging today that “there were decisions that were suboptimal along the way.” He can say that again. Even those inclined to believe the FDA was right to close the factory are bound to have their confidence in the agency shaken by Mr. Califf’s admissions of bureaucratic bungling.

    Fun fact: New Hampshire's junior senator, Maggie Hassan, was one of just four Democrats to vote against Califf's confirmation in February. For the wrong reasons, but hey.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 3:59 PM EDT

Schrödinger’s Web

Race to Build the Quantum Internet

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I very much enjoyed Jonathan Dowling's previous book about quantum technology, Schrödinger's Killer App. So picking this up (via Interlibrary Loan) was a no-brainer.

Unfortunately, it's posthumous. Dowling's colleague at Louisiana State, Mark Wilde, provides a moving foreword to the book describing Dowling's unusual approach to his lifelong research interest.

Like the previous book, this one is full of opinions, anecdotes, jokes, inside-baseball stories of how the game of physics is played. No math, unless you count Bra-Ket notation, which Dowling relies on heavily. I'm not sure how easy this is to follow; I (admittedly) did not.

The previous book described quantum computing; this book takes that as a given, and goes on (eventually) to describe current and upcoming networking technologies based on quantum behavior. But first, there's a lengthy (but interesting) discussion of the history of physicist's conceptions of light. Particles or waves? Well, both. But also, neither. The quantum internet depends on communication via photons, the inherently quantized clumps of light that (nevertheless) obey Maxwell's famous wave equations.

The quantum internet also depends on the three quantum weirdness features that Einstein famously despised (repeating from my previous report): uncertainty (you don't know an experimental result until you measure); unreality (the measure doesn't really exist until you measure); and nonlocality (measuring at point A can affect a measurement of an "entangled" property at point B. And B can be across the room from A, or light years away.)

How this applies: a photon's polarization doesn't exist until you measure it, and is inherently unknown until you do. And if you generate entangled photons, and send them off on their merry way, observing the polarization of one immediately collapses the other into a known state, even if it's miles, or light years, away. Weird. But also useful.

There is a lot of discussion of hardware (Photon guns, detectors, Bell-testers, interferometers, etc.). Dowling shows how things can be put together for all sorts of applications, most notably utterly secure point-to-point cryptography.

The state of play, Dowling notes, is interesting: specifically, the Chinese seem to be way ahead of the US in developing quantum internet technology. Specifically, see Quantum Experiments at Space Scale at Wikipedia. Aieee!

There's some bad news. The editing is sloppy. (Page 124: "A nanosecond is one-millionth of a second,…" Um, no.) Dowling refers to his colorful illustrations, but no matter how hard you stare, in the dead-trees versions of the book they remain sullenly monochrome. (The Kindle version, I checked, reproduces them in color. But, geez, CRC Press wants $42.95 for the paperback, and a cool $200 for the hardback! You can't do color at that price?)

Last Modified 2024-01-17 3:40 PM EDT

Fortune Favors the Dead

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

A pretty good mystery, set in colorful 1940s New York City. It has Chandleresque prose, and I'm a sucker for that. It also has sort of a Nero Wolfe vibe. (I think. I've only read one of those, years back.) Specifically, it features a two-person team of detection, one being rich and more or less the brains of the operation; the other being young, scrappy, and smart-mouthed. And, oh yeah, they're both women.

In this case the Wolfe-like character is Lillian Pentecost, who has an established detective agency. The Archie Goodwin-like character is Willowjean Parker, the book's narrator, who (really) ran away from home to join the circus. She also takes on temp jobs, which causes her to meet Lillian, who's immediately impressed with Willowjean's powers of observation and skill at knife-throwing. The latter skill probably saves Lillian's life, so that's good too. They team up.

A few years later, they take on one of those classic mystery plots: A wealthy widow, whose war-profiteering husband apparently committed suicide previously, throws a party. A seance is performed by a mysterious (but also wealthy) lady medium, quickly followed by a grisly murder. In a locked room, no less.

The cops are on the job, but the surviving family members hire Lillian to assist. She and Willowjean start uncovering layer after layer of the nasty plot, experiencing plenty of peril along the way. And there's an actual did-not-see-that-coming plot twist at the very end, which (I bet) sets up followup novels in the series.

Did I mention that Willowjean (um) apparently swings from both sides of the plate? Something Rex Stout probably never thought of doing to Archie Goodwin.

I was slightly irked by a reviewer who says the book "plays fair with the reader". Well, not always. Another classic mystery trope: Willowjean's narration hides certain facts from us, only to reveal them later. That's not my cup of narrative tea, but I'll allow it.

Last Modified 2024-01-17 3:40 PM EDT